Sometimes, the claims of the faith community seem to be too fantastic to believe. In my tradition, we boast about a God who sets the captives free, transforms lives, mends broken hearts and resurrected Jesus from the dead.
Most of the members of our faith community will not hesitate to posit these issues as facts. However, some of our neighbors struggle to accept these claims.
The assigned Biblical passage for a recent Sunday presents the story of the Apostle Thomas. Some call this passage the story of Doubting Thomas. I am not into name calling. I also believe that every person of faith experiences seasons of doubt. Therefore, I have entitled this story, Thomas the Modern Apostle.
Here are the crib notes: Jesus died a horrific death on the cross. Jesus’ disciples feared for their lives and went underground. After a few days of hiding, most of the disciples gathered in a small room to check in with each other.
Thomas missed the meeting. However, to the disciples’ amazement, Jesus showed up. He was alive and well. Later, the group would tell Thomas about this meeting. Thomas questioned the validity of their claims.
In this story, Thomas is much like our neighbors. We live in a world where empirical data drives our understanding of reality. The scientific method that moved society from the Dark Ages to Modernism was based on collecting, organizing, testing and presenting data. There is an assumption that what is true for one is true for all. For example, gravity works the same in America as it does in Asia.
In Thomas’s mind, no human had ever been crucified, certified as dead, buried for days and returned to life. He needed proof of such a claim. He needed to see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and the scar in his side. Thomas could not accept the word of the faith community alone.
All of us in organized faith communities live with this reality. Many of our neighbors are not willing to accept our faith claims without empirical evidence. They want more than our word or our stories about certain religious experiences.
In this story about Thomas, Jesus makes a point of providing Thomas with the data Thomas needed to accept the reality of the resurrection. But Jesus also realized that this process cannot be repeated with every Thomas on the planet. The believers would have to provide those in their world with the evidence they needed. Believers would have to show their scars.
I came to faith because a young adult named Lewis Gay lived an exemplary life before me. He never preached or invited me to attend worship with him. I watched him struggle with several hard life blows, but he seemed to have an inner strength and a faith that I did not have.
His scars were the proof I needed that there was more to life. I was Thomas, and I accepted the evidence that Lewis Gay had a connection with God. The evidence was undeniable.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.